Contact Us

Soul Talk

Soul Talk

Kaddish and memorial: aiding the soul's ascent


What is it that we can give to a loved one who is no longer physically amongst us? With our limited, filtered, compromised, spiritually blind existence in this world, what can we give to the souls who inhabit the transcendent places of the next world?

The answer is, a great deal. We can give them life.

For what is life in its most essential form, life fulfilling the purpose which G‑d created it to fulfill? Life, in the ultimate sense, is a soul in a physical body causing the stuff of this world to be revealed as G‑dly. This is what we achieve every time we do a mitzvah, a good and G‑dly deed. And when our positive actions are inspired by the life of one who has passed on to a more spiritual state of life, and are motivated by the desire and goal that they be in his or her merit—we give life and growth to a soul of the next world. Through our actions, the souls of those who passed on can attain something they could not achieve on their own. They can "live," in the ultimate sense of what life is about—affecting this world, making G‑dliness felt in this world.

This is the main idea behind the recital of the Kaddish in merit of a departed soul. While Kaddish is commonly known as the "mourners prayer," a reading of the text reveals that it is not about death or mourning, but the public proclamation of G‑d's greatness. By rising from the depths of anguish and loss to offer praise to G‑d, we transform the event of death into an act of life.

Even more important than the recitation of Kaddish is the Torah we study, the mitzvot that we accept upon ourselves, the charity that we give, the good that we do, with the intention that it be l'iluiy nishmat, for the sake of the "elevation of the soul." If the desire to give to the one who has passed on is what impels us to learn something we would not have otherwise learned, to do a mitzvah we otherwise would not have done, to go higher and further than we would have otherwise gone, then this soul lives in us. Our hands and feet, mind and heart and mouth become the hands, feet, mind, heart and mouth of the departed soul.

For more about Kaddish — including a practical guide to the Kaddish, and the "Kaddish Pro," an interactive trainer — visit our comprehensive Kaddish Site.

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Eliezer Zalmanov for May 24, 2016

Re: Mirrors Please see "Why Are the Mirrors Covered in a House of Mourning?" Reply

Felice Ga May 23, 2016

Mirrors What is the significance of the mirrors on the after the death of a loved one Reply

Sue England June 4, 2015

Thank you Rabbi Brownstein. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For June 2, 2015

Re: Kaddish for a non-Jew If your mother was Jewish, then so are you, and Kaddish would certainly be more than appropriate for you. For someone who is truly not Jewish according to Jewish law, there is no reason for Kaddish to be said. Kaddish is a Jewish prayer that benefits the Jewish soul when its family members praise G-d after they pass on in the way Torah law prescribes. It would not have this significance, and therefore would lack the benefit as well, for a non-Jew.

Hopefully the time when this will be a concern for you is a long way off. However, now, when you are alive, you could make it that much more likelier that someone will say Kaddish for you by putting time and energy into pursuing your Jewish heritage and finding your place among your people. All this in addition to the fact that, as much as Kaddish benefits the soul after death, it is the life one has lived and the Mitzvahs one has performed that set the soul on its course in the afterlife. Reply

Sue England May 25, 2015

Kaddish Can Kaddish be said for a non Jew ? I am a practicing Catholic but my mother was Jewish, although completely non observant. Catholics certainly say prayers for the dead but I would like to have Kaddish said for me too. This really means a great deal to me, but is it allowed ? Reply

Anonymous sc February 4, 2015

Is a candle lit on the birthday as well Reply

doreet Eugene Oregon November 16, 2014

Kaddish the reason, that the mourner says Kaddish for a whole year, is to keep them from going crazy with grief. Unfortunately, since my sister's partner has died horribly in pain, she was required to go to a psychiatrist and a grief group, instead of religion. So that is the religion now of death, psychiatry and the grief group, not religion. It's not helping me; not either one. The only thing I can think of, to help my sister is a candle. Also, I have told her "your partner has gotten out of pain, because this world, is nothing but pain and suffering, and where they have gone cannot be any worse than this. Nevermind heaven, even a vacuum is preferable to this." And that's how I feel. I will be relieved when I also am removed from this dimension. Running around in the body of an animal, with gross instincts, doing nothing but suffering with little enlightenment. Death is preferable. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC January 8, 2014

Re: Saying Kaddish is important and we try to do all we can to be able to say it.

Have you looked all over town to see if there are any other minyanim starting earlier that will still allow you to get to work on time? Reply

Jesse Corey January 4, 2014

Kaddish Teacher Is it okay if you're supposed to say Kaddish for 11 months, but you can only do it for 30 days because you're a teacher? Reply

Menachem Posner July 9, 2013

To Anon in Alameda, Ca. There are indeed many who have the custom not to say the Kel Molay prayer on joyous days when tachanun is not said - including Rosh Chodesh. Reply

Anonymous alameda, ca July 8, 2013

Saying El Malei Rachamim Is it inappropriate to say El Malei Rachamim after being called to the Torah if it is Rosh Chodesh? Reply

Mrs. Chana Benjaminson via April 16, 2012

Prayer There is no official prayer that is said when lighting the yahrtzeit candle. Some people say 'I hereby light this candle for an ascension of the soul of ___ daughter/son of ___' (the Jewish names of the deceased and his/her father's Jewish name) Reply

Miryam Kailua-kona, Hi April 13, 2012

I would like to know where to find the prayers for parents to say when lighting my yahrzeit candle. Thanks for including this info on the site or telling me where to find it. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for March 23, 2010

Re: Women and the Kaddish Whether or not a woman can/must say Kaddish for her parents remains a matter of controversy. There are those who say that it is better for her to support a needy person, preferably one who studies Torah (such as a yeshiva student), who will say the Kaddish on her behalf. Others say she should come to the synagogue and say kaddish from the other side of the mechitza, along with men who are saying kaddish.

Each woman should discuss with her local rabbi.

For a related discussion, see Women in the Synagogue. Reply

Gary Heller Jerusalem, Israel March 22, 2010

Women and the Kaddish Can (or must) a women say the kaddish for her parents? Reply

Chani Benjaminson, March 5, 2010

Yahrtzeit candle Indeed you do light the yahrtzeit candle on the evening before the anniversary of passing. This because the Jewish day actually begins at nightfall of the day before. For more information on this, please see: Why do Jewish holidays begin at nightfall? Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2010

lightning of yahrzeit candle Do I light the candle on the day of death, or on the evening before the day of death? Reply

Eric S. KIngston North Hollywood, CA October 27, 2009

LIGHTS I saw an Israeli interview with this woman who had a dream/vision. In it she "saw" these "tents". Some had Lights, some didn't. Some glowed very brightly, some only dim. When she asked what these "tents" where she was told these are departed souls. When she asked why some were dark, she was told that these are the souls no one says Kaddish for.

The Point: Say the Kaddish!!! Reply

Anonymous Boca Raton, FL September 20, 2009

Thank you for reaching out to us to bring us together. My brother has recently passed away. Your connectedness has helped me, and I know it is not a coincidence that I am reading this site, as the poster of the previous commenter has also helped me feel that we are all connected - together, to the Divine, and to his Creation, by having posted on the date that is the honor of my brother's month and day of birth; it is Rosh HaShanah, also the birth of Creation. Todah Rabah, and for the miracles of Divine Creation. Reply

aleso Oakland, ca April 14, 2008

life cycles Thank you so much for your website. A friend passed away and it was wonderful to have a place to go to understand the traditons and be able to participate with out feeling out of place. Or having the fear of insulting someone. Reply

Related Topics

Arrange for Kaddish to be recited in Israel

Download our Kaddish App